By Kathleen Bustamante
Real Clear Religion
Being a Christian conservative in America is tough. Being a Christian conservative at an American university can be downright distressing. Today, those who possess an unpopular worldview are vilified for simply thinking differently than the campus majority. Critical thinking and free speech are unacceptable and daring to stand up for less popular viewpoints results in bullying and threats by peers and faculty.
I am an instructor at one of the most liberal departments in one of the most liberal colleges in one of the most liberal cities in the country. I teach writing for a living, but very few of my students know where I stand religiously or politically – and, understandably, very few of my students have disclosed conservative or Christian beliefs, perhaps for fear of ostracization. Less discreet are many other professors at higher-ed institutions around the country whose mission it is to convert students to their ideology, which often stands in sharp contrast to a Christian conservative worldview.
Academia’s far left-leaning, atheistic agenda screams that opposing beliefs are not only unwelcome, but dangerous enough to warrant immediate backlash and even dismissal by many institutions. A 2018 survey of American colleges revealed that nearly 40% did not have even one professor on their faculty who identified as a Republican. And when the few who do speak up, their input is often unwelcome.
In 2003, I was a brand-new college instructor just out of graduate school. George W. Bush, whom I had voted for, was president and sending troops into Iraq – a move that appeared quite unpopular with the majority of faculty at my college. A flurry of emails flooded my inbox by teachers condemning Bush’s decision. I waited for other faculty to chime in and represent the other side of the debate. Nothing came. So, I decided to join the conversation representing an alternate perspective. In my email, I included a link to an article written by a Christian author in support of President Bush. While I knew the article would be disliked by many, I didn’t expect the backlash that occurred after I pressed the “send” button. Outraged colleagues responded, attacking me personally and calling for my resignation. Meanwhile, other colleagues messaged me privately to thank me for pushing back and representing their views. Understandably, those who agreed with me avoided voicing their opinions publicly, anticipating better than I the ramifications of speaking out. Imagine the backlash that same email would receive at an academic institution 17 years later.
A Washington Post article headlined “College Students Support Free Speech – Unless it Offends Them” poses examples of this type of intolerance on college campuses. Author Jeffrey J. Selingo notes that “one reason current college students are ambivalent, sometimes even hostile, to the idea of free speech is that they were a generation raised to recognize that bullying is wrong. They equate hurtful speech to bullying.” Many of their college professors promulgate this idea, which results in those offended seeking to quash freedom of speech that should be enjoyed by all.
A couple years ago, I was part of a Facebook group of local Christians involved in public schools and universities. One mom requested prayer for her son – a student at the college where I teach – who, upon questioning his professor’s atheist views and supporting his own religious stance in class, was heckled by the professor and laughed at by classmates. She said the experience left him ashamed and defeated. I was grateful for the opportunity to pass along encouragement to the young man through his mom, reminding him that despite the distressing experience, he doesn’t know who he encouraged by his boldness. Many students in classes like these are afraid to defend their beliefs, so observing a classmate who is brave enough to speak up might be the necessary ingredient to embolden one’s peers.
Standing up for one’s unpopular ideas in an ocean of intolerance and hate is daunting. For this reason, I encourage students who hold beliefs contrary to majority to heed the following advice:
Know your Bible
Often those who oppose your worldview will attempt to skew scripture in support of their argument, and sadly many of my Christian students find it difficult to defend their faith because they lack a thorough knowledge of scripture. For instance, those who argue that the Bible embraces homosexuality will attempt to use scripture out of context to support their claims. Studying your Bible and understanding scripture in context will help you effectively convey your points and maybe change someone’s mind.
Find a Bible-based church with a bold pastor
I don’t know what I would do as a conservative Christian minority if I wasn’t hearing truth preached from the pulpit every week. My pastor teaches courageously, never avoiding hot button topics in today’s society like premarital sex, abortion, and disciplining children. He unapologetically preaches straight from the Word of God, which builds my courage to also speak truth in my professional and private life.
Prepare in prayer
It probably feels like you are completely alone in standing up for your faith and values when surrounded by people who vehemently oppose you, but – great news! – the God who holds planets in place is on your side. So, pray before class about future conversations during which you know you might have to stand up for your faith and values. Pray for wisdom, discernment, boldness, courage, and the perfect words to speak. The Lord is more than happy to help.
Be encouraged. You are not alone.
Many students assume that because I’m a writing teacher in a liberal college I must be, by default, a liberal atheist. Yet, almost every term at least one student reveals his or her stance, not realizing that we share common ground. I am especially impressed by those students who, despite their assumptions about me, courageously reveal their faith in writing and discussions. Imagine what an encouragement you can be to others like you. You never know who else in the room wishes they also possessed the nerve to speak up.
Remember: others are watching
It’s natural to assume peers and faculty have their lives and beliefs worked out, but that assumption is surprisingly incorrect. Every term, upon reading essays written by students, I am stunned by the brutal experiences so many of these students have endured.
That shy student in the back of the class grew up in the foster system and has never experienced love or acceptance by a human being. And that friendly, attractive girl who seems to have everything together suffered sexual abuse as a child and is considering suicide.
We don’t know which students or teachers are wrestling with their own questions about God. So, perhaps your standing up in faith, even under duress, is planting seeds in the heart of seekers. And perhaps answering your atheist professor with scripture will grab the attention of the agnostic student who is desperately searching for truth.
Political and religious liberty is under assault, especially in academia. Jesus’ disciples preached unpopular truth to a world that desperately needed to hear it and to a culture who hated them for it. Standing for conservative Judeo-Christian values in America today is not for the faint of heart. This country needs bold college students now more than ever.